When to Use an API Proxy Over an API Gateway

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Image showing API Proxy vs API gateway

The need for APIs has increased exponentially as the world becomes more technologically connected. Companies now look to how an API proxy can protect their data and create workflow efficiencies. But what are they, and why do you need one? Read on to discover more about API proxies, how they work, and whether you should use them in your business.

The key takeaways from this article are:

  • API proxies decouple backend and frontend services, improving performance and data protection.
  • Proxies enforce policies for optimized API usage and prevent misuse.
  • API proxies simplify API interaction for developers and provide detailed usage analytics.
  • API proxies and gateways have key differences; proxies are simpler, while gateways offer more features.
  • Choosing between a proxy and a gateway involves considering factors like latency, complexity, and cost.

Table of Contents:

What are API proxies, and what do they do?

An API proxy is a server that sits in front of an API and acts as a go-between for requests from clients and the API. While a proxy endpoint can be used for many reasons, people mainly use them to decouple the backend services from frontend services. This decoupling allows the frontend to forward requests to the appropriate resources while protecting the data behind the scenes.

Proxies are also often used to filter requests so that only certain types of traffic are allowed through or to cache responses so that they can be reused instead of making a new call to the API each time. This, in turn, can help improve performance by reducing the number of calls made to a REST API.

API proxies can also add basic security features and monitoring, which can help protect your data and ensure your API is being used as intended.

Benefits of an API Proxy

There are many benefits to using an API proxy, including:

Enhanced Security with API Proxies

One of the primary benefits of utilizing an API proxy is the added security it provides. As the API proxy resides in front of the API, it can effectively filter requests and block any that are deemed malicious. This additional layer of security protects your API and your data from potential threats, enhancing your overall cybersecurity posture.

API Governance Through Policies

API proxies also play a crucial role in enforcing policies that dictate the usage of the API. By setting and implementing these policies, the proxy helps prevent misuse of the API and ensures its optimal performance. This governance mechanism contributes significantly to maintaining the integrity and reliability of your API.

Efficient Error Reporting

The API proxy is a valuable tool when it comes to error reporting. In the event of an API error, the proxy can swiftly report it to the relevant team for rectification. This quick detection and reporting of issues can significantly reduce downtime and enhance the overall performance of your API.

API Console Creation

API proxies facilitate the creation of an API console, a platform that allows developers to test the API and understand its workings. This not only makes the API more accessible to developers but also fosters a better understanding of its functionality, which can contribute to more effective usage and troubleshooting.

Simplified API Interaction

API proxies can simplify the process of working with APIs by abstracting some of the complexities. This makes it easier for developers to interact with the API and focus on creating and implementing effective solutions without getting bogged down by intricate details.

Comprehensive API Analytics

Lastly, API proxies are excellent tools for tracking traffic and generating detailed analytics about API usage. This data can provide valuable insights into the performance of your API, identify any issues, and indicate areas for potential optimization. By using these analytics effectively, you can enhance the efficiency, reliability, and overall performance of your API.

Do You Need an API Proxy?

Now that you know what API proxies are and what they do, you may wonder if your business needs one. The answer to this question depends on a few factors, such as:

  • The size of your company: If you are a large company with many developers working on your API, then an API proxy can help govern how the API is used and ensure it is used as intended.
  • The sensitivity of your data: If your data is sensitive or private, an API proxy security may be too lightweight of a solution, and you may need something more robust. Sensitive data may include Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or health information.
  • The skill level of your developers: If your developers are new to working with APIs or software development kits (sdk), then a proxy can make the experience easier since it is generally less complex than working directly with an API Gateway.

API Proxies vs API Gateways

API proxies and API gateways are often confused because they both sit in front of an API and can provide similar functionality. However, there are some critical differences between the two:

An API proxy is typically lighter-weight and easier to set up than an API gateway. It is also less complex, which can make it easier to use for developers who are new to working with APIs.

An API gateway is more feature-rich with greater API security than an API proxy and can provide rate limiting, authentication, and validation.

Some of an API gateway's primary use cases and advantages include:

  • Service orchestration: API orchestration is the process of managing multiple API calls from different microservices and aggregating the results into a single response. This can be helpful when you need to retrieve data from various sources.
  • Mediation: A mediation layer transforms data from one format to another. This can be useful if you need to take existing data and make it compatible with a new system.
  • Transformation: As well as transforming the data itself, API gateways can also transform the structure of an API request or response. This can be helpful in cases where you need to change the format of the API's returned data. Changes may include adding or removing fields or headers, changing the data type of a field, or filtering out specific data.
  • Load Balancing: API gateways can distribute load among multiple servers, improving performance and reducing latency. This is especially helpful when you have many users making requests to the API.
  • Throttling: An API gateway can throttle traffic to help prevent the overuse of resources during runtime. This can be helpful in cases where you need to limit the number of requests that can be made to the API.

Selecting Between a Proxy and Gateway

While it's true that certain perceived disadvantages exist when comparing an API gateway to an API proxy – namely latency, connection concerns, setup and maintenance complexity, and the overall financial implications – it's important to appreciate the distinct strengths of each solution. An API proxy, for instance, serves as a streamlined, minimalistic security mechanism, whereas a versatile API gateway can flexibly expand or contract in terms of complexity and functionality.

Potential Challenges with API Gateways

Despite the added advantages, using an API gateway is not without its challenges. Users often report issues with latency and connection, which can affect the performance of their applications. Additionally, setting up and maintaining an API gateway can be complex, given its rich feature set. This complexity extends to the overall costs of running the tool, which can be a deterrent for some businesses.

API Gateways: Scaling Functionality and Complexity

However, one of the significant benefits of an API gateway is its scalability. Robust API gateways offer flexibility in terms of complexity and functionality. They can be scaled up to include more advanced features as a business grows, or scaled down when simplicity is needed. This adaptability makes them a good long-term investment for businesses aiming for growth and expansion.

Seamless Integration and Hosting with the Best Platforms

The optimal platforms provide the ability for seamless integration of specific functionality. This feature enhances the performance of your application by ensuring that different components work together harmoniously. These platforms can be hosted either on-premise or in the cloud, offering flexibility in deployment. Regardless of your business's size or type, you can find a solution that fits your needs.

Affordability of Setup and Management

Contrary to common belief, setting up and managing an API gateway can be affordable. Several service providers offer competitive pricing models, allowing businesses of all sizes to leverage the benefits of an API gateway.

How DreamFactory Can Help

No matter which type of solution you decide is right for your business API strategy or web service, selecting a platform to help you build and manage your API is essential. DreamFactory is a platform that provides a complete solution for the entire API lifecycle, including both API proxies and API gateways.

Some of DreamFactory’s top features include:

Low-code development: DreamFactory provides a low-code developer portal and user interface that makes creating and deploying APIs easy. This lets you get your API up and running without writing much code.

Flexible deployment options: DreamFactory can be deployed on-premises or in the cloud, allowing you to choose the best deployment option that best meets your needs.

API analytics: DreamFactory provides built-in API analytics that gives you visibility into how your APIs are being used. This helps identify and troubleshoot issues and understand the features used most.

DreamFactory can help you create new APIs, regardless of which type of solution you decide is right for your business. DreamFactory is easy to use, flexible and provides a wide range of features to make working with API design and management more effortless. Start your free 14-day trial of DreamFactory today for more information.

FAQ: API Proxy vs API Gateway

1. What is an API Proxy?

An API Proxy acts as an intermediary between a client and a backend service. It's a simpler, lightweight tool that primarily manages the routing of requests and responses between these entities.

2. How does an API Gateway differ from an API Proxy?

An API Gateway is a more comprehensive tool that not only routes requests like an API Proxy, but also offers additional features such as authentication, rate limiting, API orchestration, and more. It can handle more complex tasks and can be customized based on the needs of the service.

3. When should I use an API Proxy instead of an API Gateway?

An API Proxy is a good choice when your needs are straightforward, primarily focusing on routing requests and responses without the need for complex functionalities. It's also a suitable option when you're dealing with less traffic, and your security requirements are relatively simple.

4. What are the advantages of using an API Proxy?

API Proxies are generally easier to set up and manage, and they provide a lower latency due to their simplicity. They're also less resource-intensive, which can make them more cost-effective for smaller businesses or simpler applications.

5. Can I use both an API Proxy and an API Gateway?

Absolutely. In some cases, it might be beneficial to use both. For instance, you could use an API Proxy for simpler, less secure routes while leveraging an API Gateway for more complex routes requiring advanced features. The decision should be based on the specific needs of your application.

6. How do I decide between an API Gateway and an API Proxy?

The decision should be based on your specific needs. Consider factors such as the complexity of your application, the volume of traffic, your security requirements, and your resource availability. Remember, the right choice will enhance the efficiency, security, and scalability of your application.

7. Can I switch from an API Proxy to an API Gateway later?

Yes, transitioning from an API Proxy to an API Gateway is possible as your needs evolve. However, it's important to plan this transition carefully to avoid disruption to your services. You may also need to allocate resources for the increased complexity and cost of running an API Gateway.

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